Last December, after liberating the last inch of the country from the Islamic State (IS), Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi declared to the whole world that Iraq is terrorism-free. Following a bitter battle that has left many wounds in the country, thousands of women experienced the perils of one of terrorism’s worst sins; rape.
Iraqi women were the weakest link in the state’s war against terrorism; they became sex slaves owned by the men who tried to steal every part of their bodies, soul and dignity.
Some of the women liberated from the bloody grip of IS militants opened up and told the whole world about the horrific experience they had for three years in IS captivity. But what about the women who wouldn’t talk?
A UN envoy for sexual violence in conflict was sent to Iraq last February. Pramila Patten stated that the women and girls who were raped and forced into sexual slavery by IS extremists are going through a new struggle in a community that is struggling to accept them as they are; there is a “gross lack” of support for them.
Patten, who visited Iraq from February 26 to March 5, said the survivors were released early this year. The women chose to be confined to the camps because they feared being labelled as rape victims and sexual slaves, especially since they were disowned by their families. Moreover, the women feared being associated to the terrorist group, which could bring them retaliation from many families who lost their sons, and also feared being detained by Iraqi authorities.
The UN report shed light on the catastrophic conditions of these women inside the isolation camps, which are plagued by a severe absence of physical and psychological aid.
Many women told Patten that they were seriously concerned for their safety if they return home, while Yazidi women, an ethnic group that lives in Sinjar north of Iraq, expressed a wish to leave Iraq.
In June 2014, IS fighters took over Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, went on to capture nearly a third of the country. The country was turned into a bloodbath, and thousands of women were captured as sex slaves and children were brainwashed into fighting among the terrorist combatants.
Between 2015 and 2016, Germany launched an ambitious scheme – the Special Quotas Project – which works on bringing 2,500 of the most traumatized women and children who have escaped IS in northern Iraq, to shelters in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. The project also aims to provide them with the psychological and physical support they need, under the supervision of Dr. Jan Kizilhan, a German trauma specialist.
Kizilhan brought 1,100 of the most traumatized Yazidi women to Germany for treatment. The project was funded by the state of Baden-Württemberg that set aside approximately $114 million for the pilot program.
In an interview with NBC News in September 2017, Dr. Kizilhan said: "The youngest girl I examined was 8 years old, and she [stayed] about eight months in the hands of ISIS. She was sold 10 times, that means in the period of eight months she was raped hundreds of times, every day."
However, efforts expanded by one country is not enough, Germany cannot embrace millions of displaced women and their children. Patten recommended in her report that the Iraqi government provide the surviving women with the physical and mental health and psycho-social support that is needed by survivors of sexual violence.
“It was essential to shift the stigma from the victims to the perpetrators," Patten asserted during her talks with Prime Minister Abadi and regional and provincial officials.
The conflict didn’t have an impact on women, but greatly impacted the children born to IS fighters from rape. They were left in orphanages after being abandoned by their raped mothers.
The women that Patten met urged her to deliver officials a message from the survivors to intensify their efforts in freeing up the women and children still in captivity and locating the missing.
The report concluded that 3,154 Yazidis are missing, including 1,471 women and girls. There are 1,200 Turkmen also missing, including 600 women and 250 children. Locating them requires more finances and efforts, that is in addition to the finances needed in order for them to be provided with the appropriate mental and physical support.